ANOTHER BARN FIND STORY —Bill Orth—
Last month’s article about finding and acquiring the Daytona Spyder that was hidden in a desert garage for twenty-seven years brought much more than the usual (sparse) feedback. As mentioned in the piece, mothballed cars fascinate enthusiasts and we love hearing about them. So, here’s a story about another one brought back into the sunlight after being hidden away for years.
About twenty years ago, a good friend of mine in Florida heard about a ‘possible Ferrari’ that was hiding in a garage not far from where he lived. Tim was acquainted with a gent who had several real estate investments, mostly older commercial buildings in Sanford, a small town on a big lake north of Orlando. One of his buildings used to be a Chrysler dealership back in the ‘50s. It was a two-story wood frame structure whose ground-floor showroom had become a carpet & flooring business many years before. The upstairs, which used to be the dealership’s service department, was unused, but full of junk left by past tenants over the last thirty years….and two old cars. The flooring business was moving to a new location and the investor wanted to sell the old building, but first he had to get rid of those cars, which belonged to an eccentric old fellow who had been allowed to store them for a “little while” that had turned into ten years. Knowing Tim was involved with collector cars, he had mentioned them to him. When Tim asked what kind of cars they were—assuming they were just common scrap—he was told that one was “some Ferrari-kind-of-thing.” Well, you can’t win if you don’t play the game, so Tim got the phone number for the old gent, who fortunately was still alive.
Calling revealed that he lived in an old-age home in downtown Orlando; the phone was a wall-mounted pay unit in a hallway, and whoever answered it had to go find the call’s recipient. Presently, a aged voice came on the line, and after introducing himself, Tim asked the gentleman if he owned a couple of old cars stored in Sanford. “Damn right. Wanna buy ‘em?” came the lively reply. After a half-hour’s conversation about whatever the old fellow wanted to talk about, Tim suggested that they get together and see the cars. One problem: the old gent didn’t see too well and didn’t drive anymore, and the cars were thirty miles away. So Tim offered to come down to the Home, pick him up and they’d drive up together, which was very enthusiastically agreed to. But the Home had pinochle that afternoon, so it had to be tomorrow. So, the next day Tim picked up a pretty spry octogenarian who obviously was excited to have a break from the routine in the Home and to get outdoors, meet someone new and talk about his beloved old cars.
On the trip to Sanford, Tim learned the “Ferrari-kind-of-thing” was actually a 206 Dino coupe that the gent had bought new while living in Italy in 1969! After a few years sporting around the continent, he brought it back to the states and, eventually, after moving around a bit, he settled in Central Florida. But the car started getting cantankerous, no one wanted to work on it and he bought something more modern. The other car mothballed in the garage was a 1939 LaSalle coupe that had been his father’s. Both were in “real good shape.” After getting to the garage, and helping the old fellow up the steep ramp to the second floor, Tim saw two dim, dusty shapes covered with pigeon droppings and mouse prints, sitting on flat tires on the oil-stained oak floor, partially hidden by boxes of old business records, broken appliances and other detritus.
Fortunately, all the windows had been left up and the mice hadn’t gotten inside, but both interiors were full of dusty cardboard boxes of spare parts and old family junk. The owner was depressed at how the cars had gone downhill since he had last seen them and he was ready to leave, not to discuss selling them. So, Tim put him in his car and they headed back to town with the old gent carping that Tuesday was Meat Loaf Day at the Home and he hated meat loaf. Inspiration struck, and Tim asked him what had been his favorite restaurant when he was still getting around. It turned out to be a nice place that was still in business, so Tim took him to dinner. Over a good steak, Tim began making friends with the gentleman and the process of buying the cars began. He had gotten a notice from the real estate man that the cars had to be moved, and he knew the Dino was attractive to a lot of people from calls he had gotten over the years, but no one wanted the LaSalle and he didn’t know what to do with it. Tim didn’t either, but he wanted the Dino, so he offered to buy both, and to pay “extra” for all the spare stuff that had been accumulated for the cars. But this was just the first date. It became apparent the fellow wasn’t ready to make a decision that evening, so a lunch date was arranged for Fish Stick Friday.
By Friday the owner was getting accustomed to the idea of parting with his cars and felt he could trust Tim, so he was willing to talk about price. They went back and forth for a while and eventually settled on something they could each live with. The seller had to relinquish his memories of razzing his new Dino along the Mediterranean seaside and recognize that those days were gone. He still didn’t see the same faded paint and many problems Tim did, but he acknowledged that the car hadn’t run in a decade and would probably need extensive repairs. Tim factored in the value of the boxes of new parts and he had found someone who wanted the LaSalle for a few thousand dollars, so the two new friends made a deal over dessert. Another logistic (and excuse for a trip) came up a couple days later after the titles had been found, with the man asking Tim to take him to his bank so he could deposit the money for the cars; he then signed the titles….and, of course, it was lunchtime again, so another meal away from the institution’s fare was enjoyed.
As a favor to the building’s owner who had given him the tip about the cars, Tim hauled off all the trash from the second floor, making the cars accessible to be moved. Tim packed all the stuff from inside the cars into his van, brought an air compressor to pump up the tires, which miraculously held air, and began to wonder how he was going to get the cars off the second floor. He had a tow dolly to transport the cars on one-at-a-time, but there wasn’t enough room to bring his van up the ramp with the dolly attached, nor to allow a roll-back truck to get up there. Dealerships built during that era, when cars had high ground clearance, frequently had these steep ramps that led upstairs, and the angle was pretty severe. Metal lath was often nailed to the boards to provide some grip when it was rainy. (Luigi Chinetti’s first Ferrari dealership in New York City had exactly the same layout!) But that plan assumes operational cars with brakes! Neither of these cars had working brakes any more, and there wasn’t anything secure enough at the top of the ramp to attach a cable and winch to let them down gently. So, being a very resourceful guy, Tim rounded up a helper and a few old tires.
He unhooked the dolly, left it outside and backed the van up the ramp, stopping nearly at the top. They pushed the Dino over to the ramp, fastened the old tires to the van’s rear bumper and then eased the Dino down against the tires. With the helper steering the Dino, Tim slowly eased the van down the ramp keeping the Dino in check behind it. Once on the level, they could easily load it on the tow dolly. The same trick was employed to get the big LaSalle down, but the van’s brakes could barely hold itself and that monster on the thirty-degree incline!
Over the next few weeks, Tim sold the LaSalle and started the restoration of the Dino. He also got occasional calls whenever his new friend at the Home found some other bit of old paperwork, receipt or something else relating to the Dino, which he wanted Tim to have….usually on Tuesday or Friday. As months went by, the car’s engine was freshened up, the interior trim replaced and the car repainted before finally being offered for sale. That was around 1987 or so; Tim sold it to someone in California and I have no idea where it is today, but I sometimes wonder if it, too, occasionally thinks about exciting younger days along the Cote d’Azure.
Keep this essay and next month we’ll talk about how it illustrates good ways to secure a ‘barn find’ and why a lot of people never seem to get one!
-- Bill Orth –